Discover more from The Curious Kat
Miracles do happen
New platform, same heartfelt content
Friends, you know I try to be real. Publishing is not for the faint of heart, but there are times in our creative lives when miracles happen, and it can be truly astonishing. It’s what makes us keep going.
I was having a cocktail with my writer friend Ros Brackenbury - author of Without Her - marveling at how it sometimes takes so long to understand what our work is really about and who our characters really are. It’s a mystery to me how we (= how I) can spent hours, days, weeks, months writing and yet still not quite see our intentions clearly.
The next morning I was in bed happily scrolling, and I read Rebecca Makkai’s summary of different types of endings. Considering my recent conversation with Ros, I put down my phone… thought to myself, “hmmm,” and…
BANG. An absolutely astonishing twist ending came to me for my work-in-progress, The White Island.
Just like that - a breakthrough that’s so incredibly obvious while being 100% unexpected. It somehow informs everything without changing anything. Now that I’ve thought of it, I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me earlier - and yet it would have ruined the book if I’d written it with this end in mind.
This experience made me think of the Zen quote, “In life, we don’t find the answers. We lose the question.” This has always been a tough one for me, since I’m dogged: if there’s a nail I badly want to pound it. And yet in each of my novels, I’ve had a moment of inspiration that came uninvited and arrived with both clarity of purpose and ideas for implementation. If that’s not magic, what is?
“In life we don’t find answers. We lose the question.”
I immediately emailed my agent. And of course, I didn’t give the twist away, it’s far too delicious. People - how does the mind even work?!
But that’s not all.
Ros has been reading the latest draft, and she and a few writer friends came over for a potluck dinner. She brought a gift: a book she’d picked up that weekend at a Key West yard sale.
GUESS WHAT THE BOOK IS?
It’s a 1929 translation of Madame Bovary by Eleanor Marx-Aveling, a book that features in my novel. Seriously.
[For those unfamiliar with The White Island, here’s a quick summary: Drawn into Ibiza’s Bohemian underbelly during the long, hot summer of 1965, a young mother becomes obsessed with her latest book project—a translation of Flaubert’s seminal novel Madame Bovary. Like Flaubert’s troubled heroine, she embarks on her own search for fulfillment, making a series of increasingly risky choices that endanger both her marriage and her child.]
I share this for those of you wondering how, when, if inspiration will ever strike. You never know when you’ll be hit with a brilliant* idea. Be ready for it! Be open and willing! Please share your own stories of coincidence, magic and mystery below :)
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
*It’s possible this idea will get shot down - it’s pretty radical. I’ll certainly let you know if it does.
Things that inspire me
This NYT article got my imagination all revved up, How a Love of Jane Fonda and the Color Pink Created a California Dream House. Richard Christiansen took a porn-King’s sprawling estate and turned it into a serene, eclectic spot overlooking LA. Here’s a VF article on his eco-friendly food boxes, Pleasure is a Radical Act. I never cease to be amazed by how people express their creativity.
As a huge fan of color and texture, I find that my fictional worlds are built with a kind of layering technique - back and forth rather than linear. It’s as if I’m creating an enormous oil painting; you don’t start in one corner and fill the whole canvas, you meander, pinpoint, and meander again.
Three times this past month I spoke with writer friends who were struggling to produce work. Since I started writing the GrubStreet blog about ten years ago, I’ve loved sharing ideas on how to move forward when your mind is telling you it’s impossible. Here are my top three writing mantras:
Tolerate your own mediocrity.
Keep it moving.
Give yourself the gift of taking yourself seriously.
Photo credit for NYT article and newsletter image: Simon Watson